CWB to conduct farmer vote on monopoly

The Canadian Wheat Board will hold a farmers’ vote on the future of its marketing monopoly on Prairie wheat and barley, in a last-ditch bid to stop Ottawa from opening up the trade to competition.

The CWB said Tuesday that the plebiscite on whether to retain the world’s last major agricultural monopoly, will take place over the summer. It will not be legally binding.

Farmers in Western Canada are now required to sell wheat and barley for export or human consumption via the board, although they can sell other crops to anyone they choose.

The law that governs the CWB requires a plebiscite by farmers before excluding crops from the monopoly. The federal Conservative government, however, plans to pass new legislation this autumn to end the monopoly as of August 2012.

“Our preference would have been a fair and binding federal plebiscite,” said CWB chairman Allen Oberg, who farms at Forestburg, Alta. “We now call on the government to listen to farmers and respect the results of this plebiscite.”

But federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said in a statement to Reuters on Tuesday that no plebiscite can “trump the rights of those farmers who want to choose how they market their own grain.”

“Farmers themselves do not support a plebiscite and our government once again invites the CWB to work in the best interest of all farmers by focusing on earning farmers’ business,” he said.

Prairie farmers largely voted for Conservatives in May’s general election to deliver on their promise of opening the grain-marketing system, Ritz said.

The Conservative government held a non-binding farmer vote in 2007 on ending the CWB’s barley monopoly. A majority wanted the monopoly to end, but the government did not pass the necessary legislation before the ensuing October 2008 election.

A group of Canadian farmers, meanwhile, has asked the Federal Court to review government plans to scrap the board’s monopoly, arguing that Ottawa must let farmers decide.

Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board said it filed for the judicial review on Monday.

Canada is the world’s top exporter of spring wheat, durum and malting barley.

Other farm groups have long called for the Wheat Board monopoly to end, saying they can get better prices for their crops by making their own deals with grain handlers in Canada or the U.S.

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